Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2018 February 25
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AE Aurigae and the Flaming Star Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Martin Pugh

Explanation: Why is AE Aurigae called the flaming star? For one reason, the surrounding nebula IC 405 is named the Flaming Star Nebula because the region seems to harbour smoke, even though nothing is on fire, including interior star AE Aurigae. Fire, typically defined as the rapid molecular acquisition of oxygen, happens only when sufficient oxygen is present and is not important in such high-energy, low-oxygen environments. The material that appears as smoke is mostly interstellar hydrogen, but does contain smoke-like dark filaments of carbon-rich dust grains. The bright star AE Aurigae is visible near the nebula centre and is so hot it is blue, emitting light so energetic it knocks electrons away from atoms in the surrounding gas. When an atom recaptures an electron, light is emitted creating the surrounding emission nebula. The Flaming Star nebula lies about 1,500 light years distant, spans about 5 light years, and is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Charioteer (Auriga).

Tomorrow's picture: jupiter swoop

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